The tin cottage welcomed William with a steam surge that drenched his flannel shirt with perspiration. The relentless rays of the morning sun stabbed the iron walls with a ferocity that soon transformed the cottage into an oven. North Queensland summers were unforgiving to those who were accustomed to the cooler climate of the south and yet it was the warmer climate that the Lyons family sought when they moved north.
“Cis,” William called in a quickened breath.
The pounding of his boots on the floor joined the chorus of creaks and groans as the iron walls stretched and screeched from the heat. He found Cis facing a steaming pot on the wood stove.
Waving a piece of paper in the air, he announced, “This is the letter we have been waiting for.”
Turning to face her husband, Cis wiped her face and hands dry with the edge of her long cotton skirt, before taking the letter from his outstretched hand.
She smiled and looked up at her husband, “So, this means we can finally see some rewards for all our efforts?”
“Yes, we can start planting, although mind you it won’t be ready to harvest until next season.” He reminded her.
“That worries me Will. We have no money coming in until then.”
“Cis, look on the bright side. The worst is behind us. The land is ready for planting.”
William knew from the first instant that moving his family north would be difficult. Cis was expecting their fourth child and, in all honesty, he was not sure whether he could adapt to farming. If it wasn’t for Padda’s encouragement, he would have been totally disheartened at seeing their land for the first time. It was timbered and unprepared for any type of farming.
Their cottage was not the home that he envisaged for his growing family either, when they moved to North Queensland. With very few home comforts, Cis had adorned the iron walls with photographs and made curtains for the windows in order to make it more habitable, although unwanted visitors were a constant concern. It was not unusual to look up at the rafters of the unsealed iron roof to find a snake coiled around the timbers. The absence of ceilings and lining to the walls encouraged the wildlife to seek refuge from the bush outside, although the most prevalent visitors were mosquitoes who swarmed the house in a thick fog of buzzing black dots, as the sun faded behind the horizon each afternoon. Smoke fires were lit in kerosene tins and placed outside the house each afternoon to keep them at bay. The smoke however did little to deter the wild pigs which were a concern for the children who loved the outdoors. He kept reminding himself that the situation was a temporary arrangement, until the farm was established.
“You know Cis, things will improve. Padda keeps saying that the sugar is our future.” He tried to reassure his wife as well as himself.
Cis rolled her eyes as she said, “You know that Father would say anything to encourage more people to set up cane farms.”
William nodded in agreement. He suspected that there was an ulterior motive behind Padda’s insistence that they try farming on the Haughton River. His Father in law was a very forthright man who hoped that if there were enough growers, he could successfully lobby for a Mill to be established on the Haughton. He had even earmarked a parcel of land for that very purpose. William did not always share Padda’s faith or tenacity. He still harboured some doubts on occasions, and it was during those brief periods that his previous life invaded his thoughts. He missed the certainty of being a Drill Instructor.
William looked out the window across the land that he and Cis’ brothers had spent months clearing and tilling. ‘Could it all be for nothing?’ He wondered. One thing for certain, he knew that the enemy in his old world could be outsmarted and deceived. But, how can one outsmart the elements? What happens when there is no rain? On the other hand, he daren’t spare a thought about the damage that floods and storms can inflict on crops. Deep down he knew which enemy he would prefer, if he had the choice.
- Black Snow and Liquid Gold – by John Kerr
- John Drysdale and the Burdekin – by Roy Connolly
- Notes written by Vivienne Lyons (Thanks to Jenny Saxby)
- Notes written by Nelly Hourigan on the life of her Father, George Deane.